Fundraising for The Actors Centre – Declan
A silver lining of lockdown has been catching up with some of the theatre productions I have missed over the years and that have been shown free on various platforms. Sitting on my sofa of an evening with a wonderful play on my TV has seen me through a few dark, wet nights. We cannot thrive on a diet of Netflix alone. For theatre lovers, the threat of theatre closures, and even the possibility of one of the UK’s finest industries suffering a fatal blow, is sobering indeed. How much more so for those who are employed in the theatre and the arts.
Nothing will ever replace that feeling of excited anticipation while waiting in the auditorium for the lights to go down, hoping the couple behind will stop talking, craning my head when the seats are not raked and the tallest man in all of London is seated in front of me. I love everything about the theatre except the getting there, the queue for the ladies’ loo, the uncomfortable seats in many West End auditoriums, the price of the programmes and the interval drinks. For now, even those inconveniences are forgotten as I hope that one day we will be able to return.
In the meantime, I am pleased to see some theatres starting to ask supporters to actually buy a ticket for a play, especially for a live screening. Might this be the way forward in the short term for theatres that can stage socially distanced productions? I waited my turn in a virtual queue for over an hour to get a ticket to The Old Vic production of Lungs, a two-hander with Clare Foy and Matt Smith, for which I had been unable to get a ticket when it was on stage in pre-Covid days. The ticket pricing followed that of old times, and I was more than happy to pay £30 for a mid-price ‘seat’. Other theatres are now starting too with paid for performances and The Actors Centre is one such, streaming Declan as a fundraiser.
A press-night at home was a first for me and most other reviewers I would imagine. A £3 streaming price is very reasonable indeed and gives viewers access to the production for 48 hours.
Declan, a one-person show, is written and acted by Alistair Hall. It is his first play and is due to be staged at The Actors Centre later in the year. Hall is a recent graduate of RADA and I was keen to see this short play directed by Alexis Gregory.
Declan is set in a Wiltshire suburb and is a contemporary ghost story that explores isolation and fear of the outside world. That perfectly sums up the lockdown experience, perhaps without ghosts. Jimbo recalls his friend Declan who has disappeared. The boundaries between reality and imagination, the living and the dead are blurred. It is a story of obsession.
The play opens with a darkly lit stage around which are strewn items including a microwave, a pair of shoes, a duvet and a black bag filled with rubbish. Jimbo stands centre stage addressing his virtual audience, interfacing in a way that has become all too familiar to us all under lockdown with face to face contact mediated through cameras.
The short play, about 25 minutes long, is strongly held by Hall who is a gripping storyteller. It is unclear whether Jimbo – dressed in what looks like a pair of PJs – is an adolescent or an emotionally disturbed young adult. He is obsessed with the ghosts of his dead mother, his dead friend Declan, King Edward ll, and even an evaporated Barbie doll which it appears his father destroyed. It becomes clear that his father, with whom he lives, is lost in his own world, disturbed by his own ghost perhaps as he attempts to cope through engaging in compulsive cleaning. Jimbo seems unable to get his father’s attention, although when he explores his sexuality by dancing with a boy at his grandmother’s 90th birthday bash in a nightclub (a wonderfully absurdist touch), his father is none too pleased. He is sent back to mind the buffet.
Whether Declan is real or imagined, he is perhaps the only friend Jimbo has had. I wondered whether Jimbo was perhaps on the autistic spectrum or just very lonely, perhaps psychotic. The boys fall out over a sexual proposition which seems to feed later into Jimbo’s fantasies of the Vampire, a sexually violent figure whom Jimbo is excited by and afraid of. Ultimately, Jimbo is perhaps more comfortable in the world of the dead than the living and is lured by the Vampire – is he the grim reaper? – to his demise.
Declan is a play both disturbing and psychologically intriguing. It touches on a range of important topics including sexuality, mental health, loneliness and isolation, family life and loss. That is a lot to pack into 25 minutes and with a strong performance by Hall and a sure hand from director, Gregory, the play will be of interest to many viewers.
Declan is available to view at www.actorstheatre/theatre/declan until 28 June. Streaming costs £3 and entitles the viewer to view the play for a period of 48 hours.